Key duties of surgical technologists include:
- Prepare the operating theater before surgical procedures by mixing solutions, sterilizing all instruments and arranging them on the table for surgeons and nurses, and ensuring that all needed equipment is operating properly.
- Prepare patients for surgical procedures by washing, sterilizing and shaving appropriate areas of the body.
- Transport patients to the operating theater and placing them on the table in the correct position, and covering them with sterilized sheets.
- Monitor patient vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure during the procedure and assist the operating team to put on sterilized gowns, caps and gloves.
- During surgery, they hand needed instruments and other items to the surgeon(s) and nurse(s), cut and sutures, and keep track of such supplies as sponges and needles.
- Prepare and deliver laboratory specimens for analysis by laboratory clinicians.
- Depending on level of experience, surgical technologists may prepare surgical dressings and operate suction and diagnostic equipment.
- After an operation, surgical technologists clean and sterilize the operating room, transport patients to recovery area, and replaced surgical supplies.
Certified surgical techs may also work as surgical first assistant. Under the supervision of a surgeon, the surgical first assistant, as defined by the American College of Surgeons (ACS), helps ensure hemostasis by controlling blood flow and stopping hemorrhage, aids in prevention of infection, and performs other technical assistance to help promote a safe and hygienic operating environment.
A surgical first assistant may also talk with patients prior to surgery to advise them of the procedure, prepare patients for surgery, assist in administering anesthesia, and create a written record of the operation.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of growth in this career field is expected to be 25 percent through 2018. This represents a much faster rate of growth than for most other occupations as the number of surgeries being performed across all specialties increases.
The rise in the number of surgical procedures primarily arises from the continuing growth of the Baby Boomer and senior segment of the population. Both demographic groups have traditionally required a greater number of surgical procedures due to a variety of chronic and acute medical conditions. In addition, advances in medical technology, such as the use of lasers and fiber optics, mean that many more surgical procedures are being performed on an outpatient basis making them accessible to larger numbers of people. Even so, hospitals continue to employ the largest number of surgical technologists.
Education and Training
Training to become a surgical technologist is available from two-year community and junior colleges, private vocational schools, as well as hospital-based programs. Two agencies accredit programs in surgical technology: The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
Programs may last from 9 months within private vocational schools and up to 24 months in community and junior colleges. The time difference is accounted for by the fact that private vocational schools focus exclusively on technical coursework while students in community and junior colleges will also need to complete a liberal arts component during the first year of attendance.
Coursework in both private schools and community/junior colleges will include anatomy and physiology, microbiology, chemistry and organic chemistry, clinical pharmacology, medical terminology, medical ethics (e.g. patient confidentiality) and psychology. Other topics include patient safety, sterilization techniques, infection control, surgical procedures and how to properly handle all surgical instruments and equipment.
Licensing and Certification
Certification by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting
As per the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA), Certification is not currently required to work as a surgical technologist in the state of Texas. However, most employers prefer to hire surgical technologists who are certified as it raises the standards of the profession.
Technologists may pursue voluntary certification as either a Surgical Technologist or Surgical Technologist First Assistant through the NBSTSA after having graduated from a training program that has been approved by the CAAHEP or ABHES and passing the national certification examination. Once these requirements have been met, technologists may use the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) or Certified First Surgical Assistant (CFSA) designation.
For more information on eligibility requirements, fees, and applying to sit for the CST exam and exam details visit https://www.nbstsa.org/cst-certification.
Full details regarding eligibility criteria to become a Surgical First Assistant (CFSA) may be found at https://www.nbstsa.org/csfa-certification.
To maintain certification, surgical technologists will need to satisfactorily complete 60 hours of continuing education over a 4-year period or retake and pass the national certifying exam at the end of 4 years.
Certification by the National Center for Competency Testing
An alternative pathway is to obtain certification by passing an examination administered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). You may qualify to test via four separate routes, each requiring a high school diploma.
- Graduation for an NCCT-approved surgical technologist training program within the past 10 years plus satisfactory completion of required practicum hours;
- Completion of a hospital-based surgical technologist training program in addition to 1 year of “qualifying experience within the past 2 years” or 4 years of part time experience.
- Seven (7) years of qualifying experience as a surgical technologist within the past 10 years;
- Current licensure as a physician (MD), physician assistant (PA), registered nurse ((RN), licensed practical nurse (LPN) with significant “scrub experience.”
For complete information on eligibility, fees, application procedure refer to the Surgical Technologist Certification brochure, which can be downloaded from this webpage: https://www.ncctinc.com/certifications.
Salaries of Surgical Techs
Median Earnings of surgical technologist in select regional areas.
Interview with a Surgical Tech in Texas
An interview with Amy Smith, a surgical/operating room technician in Round Rock, Texas who has been in the business for over twenty years.
Q: What education have you received that qualifies you for your job as a surgical technician?
A: I went into the Army and took a 16 week course that was divided into two parts. General medical orientation (four weeks), then book work to learn instrumentation and sterile technique (six weeks) and finally on-the-job training, which included scrubbing with another technician for six more weeks. The civilian schooling is two years. It was very fast and furious. Learn as you go.
Q: What do you like about being a surgical technician?
A: Everything. Helping people. Being right there in the middle of everything and seeing how it all works.
Q: What do you dislike about being a surgical technician?
A: Standing all day in one spot and holding retractors, unable to move.
Q: Can you give us a description of a typical day in the life of a surgical technician?
A: Depending on the size of the hospital and caseload, you will scrub several different surgeries per day. If lucky, you like the surgeon and service you are working on. The only breaks are for lunch and if you are lucky between cases. Don’t get me wrong; I love it!!!
Q: What do you think your next step will be in your career field?
A: I would like to get my certification and continue to be a scrub tech.
Q: What previous job history has prepared you for your current job?
A: None that I can think of unless you go back to high school, when I worked with children in a daycare. Surgeons are like children in that they have to have it their way.
Q: What traits and qualifications does a person need to have in order to be successful as a surgical technician?
A: Patience, tolerance and the ability to take orders and be a team player.
Q: Would you recommend this job to someone else? Why or why not?
A: Yes, I would. I would highly recommend this job. It is great to be a part of the overall solution and to see how the human body works.
Q: What training or education program might be beneficial for moving your current career forward, if any?
A: If I could change how I got my training I would have gone to a civilian school and taken the certification test straight out of school. There are many things on the test that you do not do in your job and the memory fades.